ORLANDO, Fla. – As Central Florida rent prices soar above the rate of inflation, some tenants are searching for a solution to renewal notice sticker shock.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani’s bill to repeal a law that blocks rent control is currently making its way through committees in Tallahassee, but the legislature’s session is expected to end Monday.
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Meantime, two programs offer renters something some may think is out of their reach — homeownership.
“Some days it’s good, and some days, it’s hard,” Stephanie Johnson said.
Johnson and her two daughters have lived at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission since right before the pandemic started — March 4, 2020.
They’ve shared a small room that houses bunk beds and a full-size bed, dressers, and a closet.
“A series of events caused homelessness,” she said.
Johnson’s case manager helped her get assistance that paid for her community college education which helped her establish a career.
Now, more assistance is helping Johnson skip rent altogether and jump from homeless to a homeowner.
“I was ready to hit the ground running. I didn’t want to hit the brakes,” she said. “I wanted to keep the excitement. I wanted to keep that positivity going, so that dream could be a reality.”
Her dream came in the form of Orange County’s Down Payment Assistance Program.
It is similar to programs run by cities and counties across Florida and around the country.
Federal and state funds help qualified first-time homebuyers with a down payment and closing costs.
In Orange County, the maximum amount allowed is $45,000, and Johnson closes on her family’s new home in a few weeks.
“Generations of watching my family grow up — nobody really owns a home. Everybody rents or has an apartment,” she said. “It’s looking at your life and accepting what you see in front of you, and not trying to challenge yourself for more. So, coming (to the rescue mission) gave me time to sit down and think about ‘where do I want to be in five years from now?’ It’s definitely not renting somebody else’s house.”
Paul and Lisandra Indomenico closed on their new home in late February after renting their previous home for years.
“Our last largest (rent) increase was probably about a $500 increase,” Paul Indomenico said. “You know what? We’re probably paying more renting than we would be if we actually owned it.”
The Indomenicos turned to the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, or NACA, to help them purchase their new home.
NACA staff members said they can help virtually anyone purchase a home regardless of how much they make or what their credit score may be.
NACA pays the down payment and the closing costs, and often, the company offers an interest rate below the market rate.
To qualify, clients are required to go through the company’s financial management counseling, which includes creating a monthly budget and establishing a savings plan.
The Indomenicos completed their counseling and their application, but it took some time.
“I tell you — he did it all,” Lisandra Indomenico said. “(Paul) put his glasses on, and he was on that computer. ‘Oh, they sent me these, and I need to submit this. I need to submit this, like ASAP.’ He did it all, and I said, ‘thank you so much,’ because I did not know all the paperwork that you need in order for us to obtain a home. It wasn’t difficult, but it was a lot of paperwork.”
The result of processing through the paperwork — a three-bedroom home in a gated community in suburban Orlando.
“It’s exciting,” Lisandra Indomenico said. “We have to do a little construction and maybe a little more but it’s very exciting.”
News 6 continues to search for solutions to the rising rent problem facing some Central Florida families. If you have a solution, email Erik Sandoval at email@example.com.